Putting an (Ethical) Ring on It

Etsy Blog | Lisa Butterworth

January 22, 2013
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When Beyoncé told dudes the world over that they should have put a ring on it, she didn’t specify what kind, but knowing Bey, I bet she’d suggest getting one that’s conflict-free and environmentally conscious. Whether you’re looking for a ring that will signify your betrothal, buying a fancy bauble for yourself, or simply dropping hints to a loved one about what you might want for V-day, feeling good about what a ring represents is just as important as the cut, the setting, and the size. From conflict-free diamonds to non-traditional stones and vintage pieces, there are a number of ways to score a high-end ring you can be proud to rock.

In order to understand why you’d want an ethically sourced ring, it’s important to know the potential consequences that come from choosing one that isn’t. According to the New York Times, conflict diamonds “refer to gems that have been used by rebel groups to pay for wars that have killed and displaced millions of people in Africa, the source of an estimated 65 percent of the world’s diamonds.” In 2007, Amnesty International estimated that 3.7 million people had died as the result of conflicts fueled by diamonds. And though a set of tracking regulations known as the Kimberly Process was implemented in 2003, an outdated definition of “conflict” has rendered its effects unreliable according to the lobby group Global Witness. In a 2012 New York Times article, the group asserted that, “consumers could still not be sure where their diamonds came from, or whether they were financing armed violence or abusive regimes.”

Human rights violations aren’t the only ethical concern when it comes to buying luxe jewelry. According to the Washington Post, “the mining watchdog group Earthworks estimates that a standard 18-karat wedding band leaves behind 20 tons of ore and waste rock.” Not only does this process guzzle up a ton of energy, but gathering gold and other precious metals can also lead to toxic mine drainage which wreaks havoc on the environment. Not necessarily what you want to be reminded of when admiring that sparkling number on your appendage.

Luckily, quite a few jewelers are working hard to avoid these detrimental affects. “It didn’t seem right that a ring meant to last a lifetime would have human and environmental costs that last for generations,” says Kristin Coffin, who uses recycled gold, conflict-free diamonds, and alternative gemstones to create her simple, stunning, nature-inspired pieces. Valerie Kasinskas of VK Designs and Tamara McFarland of McFarland Designs do the same, and also donate five percent of their sales to Earthworks “No Dirty Gold” campaign and a variety of charities, respectively. “The stones I work with fall into three categories,” says McFarland. “Lab-created stones, stones that are mined and cut in the US, and stones obtained from outside the US through channels that can be verified to be promoting environmental health, worker safety, and local communities.”

The most popular conflict-free and eco-friendly alternative to diamond is a stone called Moissanite. One look at its brilliant, sparkly façade makes it easy to see why. McFarland explains that the gemstone, which was originally discovered in a fallen meteorite but is now produced in laboratories right here on Earth, has “2.4 times the fire of diamond and 10 percent more brilliance and luster.”

Amethyst, ruby, sapphire, and citrine are just a few of the colored stones that can be sourced according to fair trade principles, and many of these stones can be created in a lab, which bypasses the worker- and environmental-exploitation problems found in the mining industry altogether. “Lab-created stones have a significantly smaller carbon footprint than even the most ethically sourced mined stones,” McFarland points out.

Avoiding new materials altogether is another route ring-shoppers with ethical and environmental concerns can take. Buying a vintage piece is “reusing and recycling in its simplest form,” says Erin of Addy’s Vintage who has a gorgeous collection of old-European-cut diamonds and Art Deco styles. Gold Adore’s Gillian Griffiths agrees: “No new resources are expended and no new chemicals are added to our environment.” Plus, she says, vintage diamonds are guaranteed to be conflict-free since the practice of using diamond wealth to fund wars began in the early 1990s.

Buying vintage has appeal outside of simple ethics as well. “It’s like buying a beautiful snapshot from a specific time period,” says Somewhere in Time’s Kathryn. “Each ring has its own personality and uniqueness.”
Antique Etruscan Revival ring set with diamond and seed pearls.

The advantages of buying an ethical, eco-conscious ring can hold even more weight when a wedding is involved. “Marriage is about lasting love, happiness, dedication, and problem-solving,” says Coffin. “What better way to show your commitment than through rings which exemplify a sustainable and loving future?”

Tagged with: mining, jewelry, gold

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